'Students not consumers!' Students at a Free Education Demonstration in Birmingham in March. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird
‘Students not consumers!’ Callum Cant taking part in a Free Education Demo this March. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird

The student movement is about to kick off.

This is not an original observation – straight after the budget articles were being written about the new central issue of grant cuts, and the necessity of learning from other campaigns in preparation for an upsurge.

But what no one has yet said is that this new movement will emerged within a totally different organisational context. The organisations that make up the student left today look nothing like they did in 2010.

After the #GreenSurge, the Young Greens have over 20,000 members – making them by far the biggest free education membership organisation on the student left. The Young Greens are in a position to contribute hugely to the fight against the government – indeed, the success of the student movement relies upon it.

So what can we do? Here are four ideas on how we can contribute to building a winning movement:

1. Explain the issues

In 2010, the issue was simple. The government wanted to triple tuition fees, and put every young person attending university in vast amounts of debt. It was common sense for students to fight back, because everyone understood that this was a regressive attack on the education system.

Now, however, the issues are less straightforward. Unless we can create a widespread common understanding of the issues facing us, we won’t win. Political education has to come before mobilisation.

The Young Greens are in a great position to generate this common sense. We should use public meetings, leaflets, freshers fairs and more to pursue a project of mass education that goes far beyond the left bubble.

Broadly, I would say that there are 5 main issues that we need students to understand (I’ve also linked to 5 policy briefings with more detail):

  1. The conversion of maintenance grants into loans, indebting the poorest students. (link)
  2. Retrospective changes to loan conditions, lowering the repayment threshold (link)
  3. The introduction of a new teaching metric (the TEF) which will allow fees to rise over £9,000 and attack teaching staff. (link)
  4. Changes to visas, reducing the right of international students to work, continue their study, and stay in the country (link)
  5. The continual racial profiling of Muslim students via Prevent and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. (link)

 2. Form activist groups

Groups of between 5 and 50 organisers, based on campuses around the country, are what gives our movement strength. They are a brilliant vehicle for spreading ideas, working within student unions and participating in direct action. As such, young greens should be supporting and joining these campaign groups where they exist, setting them up where they don’t, and connecting them to national structures like the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), to which the Young Greens are affiliated.

As Podemos, Syriza, Corbyn, the Scottish Independence referendum and more all demonstrate, there is no longer a clear barrier between social movements and parliamentary politics. Any future Green success will be based on our connection to people organising on the ground. This is no time to be holding our noses – get stuck in.

3. Support Upcoming Action

Forming activist groups isn’t enough – we also need Young Greens to get activist groups to team up with the wider movement’s plan of action. Once we have educated and organised students, we need to continue to mobilise them!

So far these include a number of actions organised by the NCAFC. First is the round of local demonstrations on October 24th, then a national demonstration on November 4th – but new plans will be made as time goes on and the situation develops.

4. Plan for the Long-Term

 If we want to build a positive campaign to keep – and extend – maintenance grants, then we have to look long term.

One of the great steps forward the student movement has taken recently has been to mobilise tens of thousands of students to demand a new, positive vision for education. The free education movement isn’t just a response to government plans, but instead represents a long-term approach that demands more than just ‘no cuts’ – it demands the education system which students need.

This has to continue: we can’t lapse back into negative short term reactions that slam the government but fail to generate an effective strategy for political change. Young Greens should be committed to thinking about long-term escalation, and how we will carry on the fight over the next few years, not just the next few months.